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Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Lottery Winners know something most bands refuse to learn

Watching The Lottery Winners, the self-described "mediocre indie pop band" from Leigh, Lancs at the Water Rats last night, it struck me that people who climb on stage have one of two motivations.

They're either looking for attention or they're looking for validation.

If they're looking for attention they understand that the most precious prize is an engaged audience and this is something that can't be commanded. It must be won. People who are keen for attention will be attuned to the mood of the room and will pull back the audience's attention if they feel it wandering.

On the other hand people who are keen for validation think they've done the job just by securing the gig. They won't talk to the audience any more than they have to and if they do it will be just to tell them what the next song is. If the audience aren't paying attention they don't really mind because they're quite happy playing their music. They're not prepared to change that in any way just to win the audience's favour. If people don't happen to like it that's because they're wrong.

It goes without saying that the Lottery Winners belong in the first category. As does anybody whose career last more than a couple of years.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Alan Simpson deserved a medal for writing Tony Hancock's best stuff. But no badge.

Alan Simpson has died. He and Ray Galton wrote the great Hancock radio shows. That's him on the left.

I don't really remember those shows being on the radio. I picked them up later on, from gramophone records played on the radio in the 60s. People would request snippets of them on "Two Way Family Favourites".

When I was living in a flat in north London at the beginning of the 70s a bunch of us had some of those records on the Pye Golden Guinea label. We played them so often that I can recite entire pages of the scripts.

There's never been better broadcast comedy. There's never been more poignant broadcast comedy. There's been better delivered comedy.

Hardly a week goes by without one of Galton and Simpson's lines as spoken by Tony Hancock unaccountably welling up from my subconscious.

"Given, no. Spilt, yes."

"There's more water out there then there is in your beer."

"Send a bread pudding to Kuala Lumpur."

"We're going to Margate this year, if any of you nurses fancy..."

"But no badge...."


Sunday, February 05, 2017

A thought about the next President

Keep turning over in my mind something I just heard on the excellent NPR Politics podcast.

If you'd suggested in the first year of George W. Bush's second term that the next President would be Barack Obama you would have been laughed at.

And if you had suggested in the first year of Obama's second term that the next President was going to be Donald Trump the laughs would have been even louder.

I don't know exactly what it proves other than the enduring truth of Harold Macmillan's line about  the thing politicians most fear.

"Events, dear boy, events."

Friday, February 03, 2017

This is what's happening with Word In Your Ear

Paul Gambaccini was our guest in a particularly riveting Word In Your Ear evening at the Islington last week. He was talking about everything from his time as a writer on Rolling Stone through his time at Radio One to his harrowing year under the shadow of the Metropolitan police Yewtree investigation. This is all detailed in his extraordinary book Love, Paul Gambaccini. You can hear the conversation here. You can also sign up to get further Word In Your Ear podcasts.

Next Wednesday our guests are Tony Fletcher and Barney Hoskyns. Tony, who's the former editor of Jamming magazine, will be talking about his various music biographies, including his new one In The Midnight Hour, which is the story of Wilson Pickett. Barney is with us, talking about and signing copies of his book Small Town Talk, which is all about the extraordinary musical background of Woodstock. There's a few tickets available here, where you can also sign up for the mailing list and make sure you get notice of upcoming events. We're hatching plans for spring right now.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A President with nothing to hide

For years now I've been thinking, why would anyone run for high office in this day and age?

Some of the most effective leaders – Churchill,  Roosevelt, Mitterand  – had clanking great skeletons in their closet. But since the media took on the job of exposing everything about candidates that they might not want to have exposed, we've had leaders like Obama and Cameron and Merkel who are above all things careful and don't appear to have any secrets to cover up.

That's led us to people who don't have their fingers in the cookie jar, haven't changed their positions all that much and have a dull domestic life.

And now we have the opposite. A President who is largely motivated by money, has run as the candidate of a party who don't agree with him and has a domestic life like something out of a Tom Wolfe novel.

But here's the thing.

Donald Trump doesn't really have anything to hide.

He's exactly the blowhard his opponents say he is and precisely the bull in a china shop his supporters ordered. They didn't vote for him because they listened to his plans and thought, that seems sound. They voted for him because they wanted to roll a grenade under the door of the status quo. They wanted action. And they've got hyperactivity.

But is there anything, apart from the slow unravelling of plans entered into in his haste, that could derail him?

Certainly not the normal stuff. If his tax returns were to come out and to say that he'd been involved in massive tax avoidance it wouldn't particularly hurt him. If it were to suggest he wasn't quite as rich as he makes out that would annoy him but it wouldn't really damage him. If he were to be found in the outer office with an intern, like Bill Clinton was, would even the Evangelical right do anything more than shrug? I don't think so. This is not a man that anybody looks at and thinks, he represents my values or my country. Nobody would lend him their lawnmower.

He's a television personality. To twist an old Tom Stoppard line, he's the opposite of a person.

What he's doing at the moment is "Larping". Live Action Role Playing.

He has no principles. Therefore he has nothing to hide.

TV has a lot of answer for. This is the person the TV industry has been building towards since the middle 1950s. Nothing on the surface and nothing underneath either.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

So is this why Americans drink before meals

These are just four of the scores of different covers that Frederick Allen's "Only Yesterday" has had since it was first published in 1931, which gives you an idea of how it's maintained its popularity.

It was a massive best-seller back then, and that was richly deserved. It's a brilliantly written account of the America of prohibition, red scares, irrational economic boom, dramatic changes in the relationships within the family, the transforming power of the motor car and the advent of radio, all written while the decade's paint was still wet.

Now I understand why Americans would still rather have two or three strong cocktails before a meal than wine with it. This habit dates from Prohibition, when people would meet their friends in a hotel room where they could serve each other a few illicit drinks in seclusion before going down to eat in the hotel dining room.

Can't recommend this book too highly.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Books have replaced records under the Christmas tree

I was in a few West End bookshops in the week before Christmas and they were busy, as busy as I remember record shops used to be in the week before Christmas.

Albums were formerly the ideal Christmas present. They were the right price and they were always appreciated. Tens of thousands of people would buy albums at Christmas who hardly bought them the rest of the year.

Now all that's gone. The people who used to give albums now give books.

The record business's loss seems to have been the book business's gain.